With COVID-19 transmission rates spiking regionally, Durango School District 9-R will move to remote learning for all its students beginning Wednesday and extending through Jan. 4, the end of winter break.
“Transmission rates and positivity rates in our community are on the rise, and we are seeing much bigger impacts on our staff and students, with 12 cohorts alone going into quarantine in the past week,” 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger said in a message sent to 9-R parents. “With these trends, we are at a critical point where we must make some immediate shifts in our learning models for families in an effort to slow the spread of the virus and reduce the spike in cases we are experiencing in our community.”
By Dec. 11, Snowberger said the district plans to determine if an extension of remote learning will be needed beyond Jan. 4. The decision to extend remote learning will be based on COVID-19 transmission rates in La Plata County during the first two weeks of December.
Preschool will be canceled through Thanksgiving break, which ends Nov. 27, with students returning Nov. 30.
Snowberger said the district is currently working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and San Juan Basin Public Health to develop a model that would allow preschool services to return after Thanksgiving.
“It’s pretty difficult to remote learn with a 3-year-old,” he said.
Bayfield School District also announced Tuesday that it will end in-person lessons and athletics until further notice.
“We understand that this is a hardship on families,” said Superintendent Kevin Aten in a Facebook post Tuesday. “This decision has not come lightly, but we firmly believe it is in the best interest of our students, staff, and community.”
The loss of in-person learning is a blow.
Snowberger said research shows remote learning, usually involving classes and work assigned online, is less effective than in-person learning and often also harms students’ social-emotional growth as well.
“This is really the last decision I wanted to make, but the situation within the district has reached the point where we’re having difficulty providing full staffing,” he said.
The district also realizes a move to all-remote learning places burdens on families, especially families with working parents who must find child care.
“The decision to move the entire district to remote instruction is a difficult one,” he said.
Parents and families strove to practice COVID-19 transmission-reducing behaviors, such as keeping kids home when sick as well as wearing face masks, practicing social distancing and frequent hand-washings, and Snowberger said that helped 9-R keep in-person learning viable as long as possible.
“We commend all the efforts that our families and staff have made to allow 9-R to open up our school year with three different learning models, including in-person,” he said.
Families traveling during the holidays should continue practicing public health guidelines to minimize risk of transmission, he said.
The school district also encourages families to consider a quarantine on returning home and to schedule tests before returning to work or school.
Snowberger said he is working with Cedar Diagnostics, 9-R’s partner to provide COVID-19 testing, about setting up tests for students who travel during the holidays to assure they have not contracted the novel coronavirus during their travels.
Fort Lewis College also moved from classroom instruction to online learning Monday in an effort to slow transmission rates.
On Tuesday, SJBPH also moved the county to COVID-19 Dial Level Orange: High Risk, which was formerly known as Safer at Home Level 3.
At this level, SJBPH is restricting public and private gatherings beginning Friday, including lowering operating capacity for most businesses from 50% to 25%.
The move comes to reduce community transmission.
In the last 14 days, SJBPH has identified 242 cases of COVID-19 in La Plata County residents – more than all cases identified from March to early August.